Mozart: The Piano Sonatas

WORKS: The Piano Sonatas
PERFORMER: Leon McCawley (piano)
Mozart’s piano sonatas form an area of his output that’s still comparatively neglected. It’s true that the ‘Alla Turca’ finale of the A major Sonata K331 and the opening movement of the C major Sonate facile K545 are among the most famous pieces of music he ever composed, but they are hardly staple concert-fare. Of the remainder, the turbulent A minor Sonata K310 composed in Paris at the time Mozart’s mother died there in the summer of 1778 gets the occasional airing, as do the equally dramatic C minor Sonata K457, the hybrid F major masterpiece K533 & 494 and the brilliant last sonata K576; but these four works form the sum total of what most pianists venture to perform in public. Arthur Schnabel’s well-known dictum to the effect that Mozart is too easy for amateurs and too difficult for professionals seems to hold good.


Leon McCawley seems more at ease with the demonic side of Mozart than with his more graceful aspect. He gives a fine performance of the A minor Sonata, making the most of

the dynamic contrasts in the opening movement’s central development section, and vividly conveying the suppressed excitement of the ‘presto’ finale. McCawley is admirably limpid in the little C major Sonata K545, too; but all too often elsewhere there’s a noticeable lack of warmth and expressive flexibility. The slow movement of the B flat Sonata K281 is actually headed ‘Andante amoroso’, and in its opening bars we seem to hear a pair of clarinets slowly descending in parallel. McCawley is rather matter-of-fact here, and his sparing use of pedal doesn’t help in communicating the music’s romantic ardour. He has a tendency, too, to exaggerate Mozart’s phrasemarkings, leaving a tiny gap between one phrase and the next that disrupts the music’s overall melodic contour. The beautiful Adagio of the late B flat Sonata K570 suffers particularly in this respect.


In the end – and despite the unfailing cleanness of the playing – this new set doesn’t supplant the versions by Mitsuko Uchida (Philips), and especially Maria João Pires, both of whom offer performances of greater character and affection. Misha Donat